By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff
DAYTON, Ohio -- Senator John McCain today finalized his choice for running mate and then arrived in the battleground state of Ohio, where he plans to appear with his pick Friday at a noon rally.
The campaign hopes the unveiling, coming about 14 hours after Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight, will deflate the "bounce" in support that Democrats are counting on from their convention.
McCain's decision followed months of suspense for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and other top vice presidential prospects. Romney is slated to appear with McCain at rallies this weekend in Pennsylvania and Missouri, but the McCain campaign said that does not necessarily mean Romney is the vice presidential candidate.
In addition to Romney, other top prospects include Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a long-time friend of McCain; Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the self-described "independent Democrat," and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.
The McCain campaign, having watched how Obama's pick was leaked last week, went to great lengths to try to keep the selection secret. One possibility was that several of the prospects would come to Dayton, thus shrouding the selection, a Republican strategist said. CNN reported tonight that the McCain campaign did not plan to announce the pick tonight, so as to avoid distracting from Obama's speech.
As McCain entered a Dayton hotel this evening, police kept reporters away from the lobby and prevented questions from being asked. McCain waved as he entered an elevator, saying, "Good to see you," and then went to his suite.
Romney left his schedule open for Friday amid speculation that McCain could pick him. "My guess is Mitt Romney, if I had to bet the ranch," Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said on Fox News Channel this afternoon after confirming that she was not the selection.
A poll released tonight found that Romney had the support of nearly 40 percent of Republican delegates heading to their convention next week in St. Paul, far more than any other contender.
The New York Times/CBS News poll found that 30 percent of delegates did not offer a preference, and no other candidate won more than 7 percent support. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was named by 7 percent, Ridge and Pawlenty were the choice of 4 percent each, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin were cited by 2 percent each.
Romney, who appeared at private events today in California, is viewed as a top prospect because of the belief that he could shore up the Republican ticket's credentials on economic issues. He also might help win the tossup state of Michigan, where Romney was raised and his father, George, served as governor. Romney might also help in Nevada, which has a large population of fellow Mormons.
However, Romney's chances could be hurt by the fact that he had a privileged upbringing and has a personal fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He spent $45 million of his own money during the primaries, including paying for ads that questioned whether McCain is "the right Republican" to occupy the Oval Office. Romney said this week in Denver that he and McCain have patched up their differences since the primaries and have become friends, and he has become one of McCain's most active surrogates.
Pawlenty, while little-known nationally, is one of McCain's favorite politicians and one of the earliest major supporters of his presidential bid. He came from working class roots and worships at an evangelical church, and could counter the blue-collar appeal of the Democratic vice presidential selection, Senator Joseph Biden.
Pawlenty appeared early yesterday in Denver as part of the Republican Party's response to the Democratic National Convention, feistily attacking Obama, saying, "Senator Obama, what have you done and what have you run? When you look at those two questions, the answer is not much and nothing."
He then abruptly canceled several afternoon interviews, leading to speculation that it might be related to the vice presidential decision. Pawlenty also told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, that he planned to be in Minnesota for the State Fair Friday.
McCain has spoken highly of all of the prospects. In an interview with Pittsburgh radio station KDKA, which aired today, McCain called Ridge "a great American and a great and dear friend and I rely on him and I have for many years." The two men are both Vietnam War veterans, but Ridge supports abortion rights so his selection would upset many Republicans.
Lieberman, who was the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 2000, has endorsed McCain and plans to address the Republican convention. While some anti-abortion delegates have said they would walk out of the convention if Lieberman is the vice presidential nominee, Lieberman could help McCain win over independents and Democrats.
McCain had hoped to make his choice by Tuesday, but he reportedly delayed the final decision because he wanted to discuss it with his wife, Cindy, who had returned to the McCain's home in Arizona on Wednesday night. A campaign official confirmed late today that McCain had made his decision and that the running mates would appear at Friday's rally.
While the nation has focused on the Democratic convention, McCain has garnered extensive coverage in the swing state of Ohio as a result of his decision to make the announcement here. Newspapers have been filled with stories for days about the McCain announcement, and his arrival this evening at Dayton International Airport was covered live on a local news station. By contrast, Obama made his vice presidential announcement in his home state of Illinois, which he is expected to carry easily, before traveling to swing states.
But the McCain campaign and local Republican officials today were reportedly scrambling to give away the remainder of 10,000 tickets to the Dayton rally, which they hope will be his largest and show enthusiasm for the Republican ticket, the morning after Obama accepted the nomination in a 75,000-seat stadium.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.